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Hollywood is heating up again for Saudi Arabia’s money – The Hollywood Reporter

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In April 2018, Hollywood’s powerful actors bestowed royal treatment on Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seeking a chance to tap into the country’s $ 500 billion public investment fund and expand its market share. But following the murder of Washington post columnist Jamal Khashoggi six months later – a crime attributed to Saudi government agents – the industry has publicly shied away from the relationship.

Fast forward three years, and that freeze appears to be thawing as Saudi Arabia embarks on a massive month of showbiz activity that will feature figures like Justin Bieber, Anthony Mackie and director Joe Wright. On December 5, United Artists and Universal will launch the Wright-directed musical Cyrano as the opening film of the Red Sea Film Festival, the country’s first major international film event. The film, which stars Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett and Kelvin Harrison Jr., will screen at the 11-day festival alongside Netflix The lost girl, Debugging features’ Belfast and Universal Sing 2 – all awards season contenders – plus an assortment of Arabic features. Although the guest list has yet to be confirmed, Wright and Bennett are expected to attend.

Just as the Red Sea Fest rolls out its red carpet in Jeddah, Bieber, Jason Derulo and A $ AP Rocky are expected to perform at the Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in the same city. Meanwhile, the largest film production the country has ever hosted is already underway. Desert warrior – with Mackie and Sharlto Copley and writer-director Rupert Wyatt (The rise of the planet of the apes) – is filming in the province of Tabuk on the site of the future megalopolis Neom, which makes it the first major project to be filmed there. And actor Gerard Butler Kandahar will begin production in December in AlUla, an area that has recently been heavily promoted as a filming destination (its own commission was launched this year). This film marks a regrouping of Butler and his Angel fell and Greenland director Ric Roman Waugh.

“I think this will kind of be the turning point,” says Dubai-based producer Carla DiBello, whose film Maskoon bows at the festival. DiBello shot the thriller in Jeddah with a crew from Saudi Arabia (director Lina Malaika) and the United States (Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker David Darg).

Recent developments suggest that the country’s pariah status is not being treated as such by power brokers. There were already signs last year, with Jason Momoa, Jackie Chan and Shah Rukh Khan speaking at a conference in Riyadh and Spike Lee and Oliver Stone scheduled for March 2020 to attend the inaugural LA Film Festival. Red Sea, which was ultimately canceled due to the pandemic. The 21-month delay has actually made things better, says a regional director, who says more international guests are willing to attend the festival in 2021 than in 2020. However, there has been some setback. Sources say some WME customers have received a letter from their agent urging them not to attend the Red Sea event. (Parent company Endeavor returned a $ 400 million investment to PIF after Khashoggi.) A spokesperson for the agency said WME was not aware of such a letter.

The main indicator of a change in temperature, however, is that Hollywood is once again actively courting Saudi money. The two Desert warrior and Kandahar are funded and produced by MBC Studios, the production arm of regional broadcast giant MBC, which, following a major land grab by Salman in 2018, is now majority owned by the Saudi government. The dollar figures were not disclosed, but MBC Studios chief executive Peter Smith said THR when she was making a “substantial investment” in Kandahar.

With Desert warrior co-produced by JB Pictures and AGC Studios, not traditionally financial, it seems that MBC is once again the primary source of funding for the project. According to Zeinab Abu Alsamh, managing director of MBC Studios, the 2018 fallout had an impact on how she worked with Hollywood, although she says it was “very minimal” and most people still choose to see the area as “evolving and as if changing.” Abu Alsamh adds: “I think that with the time and the collaborations that we do, it is not something that will be an obstacle.”

(The Saudi Arabia-based investment extends to the parent company of THR; SRMG, a publicly traded media company in Saudi Arabia, is a minority investor in PMC, co-owner of THR.)

Yet, so far, Hollywood has expressed its outrage at Saudi Arabia more clearly than that of other countries with similar human rights PR problems, namely China. Some stars like John Cena have courted critics for a double standard. The Fast Furious The star pulled out of a WWE event in Saudi Arabia in November 2018, but apologized to fans in China for calling Taiwan a country on a promotional tour. The latter pushed Stephen Colbert to make fun of the actor-wrestler on his Last show.

According to Alaa Karkouti of Egyptian distributor-producer Mad, who has 13 films in the Red Sea lineup: “You have to have clear criteria for the whole world. Because you could easily spot a lot of things that would force you to boycott any country, including the West. “

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